This can only be the beginning of a culinary journey through the great Athina, a few suggestions for a first trip to Athens, immersing you in some of the essential tastes of this hot, white, vibrant, legendary cradle-heart-city, pumping with love, sun, history and flavors.
Either you come by sailing, flying or driving, it is likely you will be hungry as soon as you arrive, through the air alone: nothing in the world smells like Greece, a mixture of olive trees, olive oil, pines and cypresses, honey, sea, sky, marble, oregano, salt, flowers, figs and citrus, fire and wind. Through the grace of our host, we started our food itinerary with the delicious street food, a traditional pita wrap (this one was particularly yummy, not only because of our hunger, but also because of the fluffy dough of the pita and the very fresh ingredients) with skewered meat (souvla "skewer"), fries, tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions and tzatziki sauce. It goes perfectly with the amazing cold water you are served with every meal in all Greek tavernas. In fact, Greece is where you will fall in love with water again :)
Yiaourti Me Meli (Greek yogurt with honey and walnuts)
Easy to make for yourself, healthy to eat, cooling and refreshing for our first evening in Athens.
Accompanied by the first Frappé (milk-foamed ice coffee), another must-try, together with other specific coffee-based cold drinks such as Freddoccino (a mixture of milk ice cubes, cocoa, chocolate and fresh coffee) or cold Cappuccino. Perfect as a boost for roaming the streets in center Athens, leading us to the enjoyment of the first sunset over the Library of Hadrian.
Morning takes us to the godly nest, one of my favorite places in the world, the Acropolis of Athens. If gods exist, they most certainly live up there, whispering under the sun, hair in the winds. Before climbing, we stop for breakfast at the beloved Cafe Crescendo (where they serve a variety of hot and cold breakfast pastries, sandwiches and drinks, all fresh and delicious) to begin the tasting of the many fruit juices, salads and assortments (either locally produced, such as Amita, or freshly squeezed and prepared), one of Athens's many delights.
Seafood by the coast
Starting from Piraeus, Athens has a long coast of beaches where you can try the best flavor of fish and seafood in the lovely Athenian tavernas by the Aegean sea. We spent two days at the coastal beaches, in Glyfada and Varkiza, two of the more popular beaches among Athenians, where they go to relax after work or during the weekends. Best way to taste seafood is along this coast, by the sea. This is where we enjoyed the best traditional Greek salad at the Psarotaverna, along with fried fresh anchovies (in Glyfada) and the famous grilled fresh sardines (one of Athens's specialties) and fresh fried calamari in Varkiza, at the popular windsurf club and tavern, NAOBB. Don't forget to drown the seafood in Mythos, the popular Greek beer.
Choose one of the many rooftop terraces in Athens (another specialty of the city) for a work (this was also a working trip for us) or relaxation pause, before re-immersing in the city's nightlife. We opted for Couleur Locale, a famed rooftop cafe where we had the pleasant surprise to enjoy two of the best salads we ever ate, anywhere, along with the view and atmosphere. They came out this way because it was felt each ingredient, each little piece had been carefully selected and cooked, with love.
On this street connecting Syntagma Square (the central square in Athens) with the old town neighborhoods of Plaka and Monastiraki you can find many good restaurants, not only Greek, but also well-known good places if you want to taste international cuisine in Athens. We chose yet another Greek taverna with a touch of fine dining, Ergon, which is also a deli where you can buy homemade and traditional delicacies to take away. Here we tried an interesting version of Shrimp Saganaki (another must-try Greek recipe) with unshelled grilled prawns in the traditional homemade tomato sauce with garlic and feta cheese, and a selection of cold and hot meze, among which stood out the cheese pies with touloumotiri and the feta-filled sweet and spicy peppers, along with the house wine (which you should try in most Athenian taverns).
We loved this taverna and took our breakfast to go, Melitzanosalata (the famous eggplant dip) cooked with garlic, walnuts, onion and baked pepper, and an assortment of pepper cheese.
The hearty breakfast was accompanied by the best apple pie in the Universe :) (and trust me, I have tasted and cooked many apple pies in my life) from Moyses in Monastiraki (where you can enjoy traditional live music) and just before our trip to Agora, it was completed by a Greek coffee.
Our host made a great recommendation to visit the smaller island near Athens, after Aegina, and this is how we got to one of the most charming places near Athens: Agistri. We "flew" there with the Flying Dolphins of Athens and found an oasis of vibrant colors and tastes, in a relaxed, quiet atmosphere, first enjoying breakfast by the Church (Greek breakfast - eggs, ham, sausage, honey, butter, jam, fresh juice, coffee and fresh homemade waffles), before swimming in an embracing blue sea.
You can find great seafood in all the lovely white and blue tavernas near Skala, by the sea, and all along the coast, but we tried what is said to be the best restaurant in Agistri, Alkyoni, where they experiment an original take on local food. Great place, great view, great food!
Frozen Greek yogurt
After the long, hot hours of visiting the many sites of Athens, there is nothing more delicious and refreshing than the frozen Greek Yogurt with the fresh fruits, nuts, seeds and dried fruits of your choice from Yogolicious in Monastiraki - a must-try!
One of the most beautiful museums in the world must have a fitting restaurant, and it does. Enjoy the art and history with a glorious sunset, jazz and fine dining.
Breakfast is no Greek breakfast without the amazing bougatsa, a Macedonian delight, a special morning pie of filled phyllo layers. We ate ours at our favorite breakfast spot, at Crescendo, by the Acropolis, and it was filled with semolina custard and puffed with lots of sugar, like an aristocratic morning makeup. Accompanied by salted pastries like spinach pie, fresh pizza, salami and cheese sandwiches and the best cold coffee drinks, right before visiting the almighty Zeus at his temple. We continued our journey to the National Garden where we drank the best no-sugar lemonade at the park cafe.
Athenians serve good food and they serve it well. I must say everywhere we ate during the trip, we weren't disappointed, but for this itinerary we chose two restaurants to recommend above all, one touristic, one for the more initiated foodies.
The more touristic spot is Cave of Acropolis, tucked behind a quiet portion of Plaka stairs, just at the foot of the ancient site, with a great night view of Acropolis, friendly staff, live bard music and traditional Greek cuisine. This would be a good place to try the tirosalata ( a must-try traditional spread of spicy cheese) along with traditional cooked dishes for second course.
The second one is already famous for no-compromise cuisine: one of the best restaurants in Athens, Kallipateira, with an interesting story behind its name, a small tavern right next to the flea market where you can enjoy real homemade food and a great reception. Time to taste bouyourdi, another Macedonian classic, one of my favorite Greek dishes, an appetizer of feta, spicy peppers and tomatoes cooked in a clay pot, in lots of olive oil and served with grilled oregano bread. Kallipateira's was indeed very very good, with baked hot and sweet peppers and homemade tomato juice. Moussaka was divine, like a godly foam, yet you could taste each ingredient (the meat sauce, the baked potatoes and eggplant slices and the delicious bechamel). The house wine was served in tavern glasses (what a pleasure!) and it went well with the liver cooked in more wine, with garlic and spices. For dessert, don't avoid the hot chocolate cake with cream.
Fresh and sweet
Do not leave Athens without visiting a local market where you can buy fresh vegetables and fruits, they are unparalleled, drunk with sun and sea and the spicy land. Try a simple plate of sliced tomatoes with olive oil (we served it with homemade olive oil from our host's olive trees in the country), with or without feta, peaches and fresh figs (that we also ate on the Athenian roads, straight from the tree).
And last (far from least), if you want to leave with the perfect foodie memory from Athens, don't leave without tasting the kourabiedes (walnut butter cookies) and the perfumed Greek delight.
Cover photo: Thao Uyen
A melting pot experience, in more than one way. Welcome to our Epicurean adventure!